It’s almost a cliché that there’s a “friendly debate” pitting utilities against renewable energy. But concerns on the utility side of the table are real: intermittency, potential destabilization at the feeder level, non-baseload, and peaks in generation that don’t necessarily match demand peaks. Today’s power infrastructure involves unpredictability in both supply and demand that is extremely difficult to manage.
The big question in energy storage, Wheaton says, boils down simply: what does it cost to build more generation (to oversupply), vs. how to store and manage energy? Today it’s more “economically rational” to build more generation, whether it’s solar or wind or even coal, he noted. As energy storage technology costs come down — and as there is better understanding and calculation of externalized costs, such as societal impacts — “we will see those lines cross, and more utilities will go to energy storage as a more economical means to serve the grid.”
Fundamentally, economics determines the decision of over-generation vs. energy storage; right now “either energy storage is not cheaper, or the payback is not enough to shift over,” noted Luebbe. As the cost (dollars per kilowatt-hour) come down and energy storage costs intersect with those in over-generation, “then everyone will do it because it’s economically the logical thing to do.”
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